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Japanese tea wares

The Japanese Tea Ceremony uses a number of utensils made from a harmonious combination of materials - metal, lacquer, wood, bamboo and ceramic. At first highly-prized utensils from China were used, including glazed pottery and porcelain. However, the Japanese started to use home-produced utensils alongside the Chinese pieces. Ceramics, especially homely pottery teabowls rather than more delicate porcelains, emerged as central to 'tea taste'.

The first native tea wares were those made in the early thirteenth century by the potter Tōshirō at his kiln in Seto, Aichi prefecture. They were copies of tea bowls of the Song dynasty (960-1279) which he had studied in China. By the fifteenth century the Setō kiln was also making amber-glazed copies of Chinese celadon called Kisetō ('Yellow Setō') ware, black temmoku (teabowls), and streaky brown-glazed tea caddies.

Simple shallow Korean food-bowls with an overall glaze were also imported during the sixteenth century and copies were made in Japan. Potters from Korea came to Kyūshū, bringing with them improved kiln technology and secrets of glazing. Kilns in Hizen Province at Karatsu and elsewhere produced copies and variants of Korean pottery, sometimes painted with Japanese designs under the glaze.

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries teamasters influenced the manufacture and design of tea wares, often becoming potters themselves. Raku wares were favoured by the teamaster Sen no Rikyū and were very popular. These hand-formed low-fired glazed pots have been made continuously by successors of the founder, Chōjirō (1515-1592). They have many imitators. The character raku means 'pleasure', describing the uniquely comfortable feel of the irregular shaped bowl in the hands. Furuta Oribe (1545-1615) made distinctive glazed wares irregularly patterned in green, tan and white. Wares from the old kiln groups using traditional ash glazing technologies were also in demand.

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